Designing the Future of Learning: A Paradigm Change

Topics: Future of Learning

When groups explore the future of learning in the workshops that we facilitate, some interesting possibilities arise. For example:

  • What if traditional educational paradigms were disrupted, with family, school, and community integrated to reflect the emerging economic paradigm?
  • What if social-emotional learning drove society’s approach to navigating shifting landscapes?
  • What if students got to choose what they learned, participating in decisions about their educations?
  • What if personalized learning paths were available to all learners, with “schools” being without walls and unrestricted by time?

At CoSN’s 2018 conference, “Exponential Change: Designing Learning in the 4th Industrial Revolution,” Jason Swanson and I led a pre-conference workshop called “Exponential Change and Educational Equity: Designing the Future of Learning.” The possibilities above reflect some of the breakthrough changes in learning that participants thought could address opportunities and challenges on the horizon.

As we unpacked implications of the drivers of change from our most recent comprehensive forecast on the future of learning, the conversation underscored the depth of change likely in the new era that is emerging. At KnowledgeWorks, we describe this new era of one of partners in code; the World Economic Forum calls it the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Among the group’s observations:

  • Security and data privacy will be important considerations as smart machines proliferate.
  • Data could become a new form of privilege. Who will define what it means to be optimized as we increasingly tinker with our performance?
  • More liaison between the education and employment sectors will be needed to align curriculum with the changing employment landscape.
  • If work shifts significantly, we will need new technical and social practices – especially if we end up with universal basic income or other forms of social supports that provide people with a buffer against rapid change.

As we looked across the breakthrough changes described at the outset of this post, the group realized how important personalized learning seems for helping all learners prepare for the emerging era. Student agency also stood out as an important force for designing future-ready approaches to education. But the group went beyond what personalized learning and student agency could look like in the context of today’s schools and classrooms. The possibilities for the future that they identified organized learning in much more fluid ways than we typically do today.

In short, we were talking about a paradigm change.

There’s a big gap between where education is today and where these kinds of possibilities might take it. As we all consider how to close that gap, participants wanted others to consider the need to:

  • Explicitly address equity, including funding inequities.
  • Develop a framework for social-emotional learning to help evaluate effectiveness.
  • Help students develop integrity and grit.
  • Involve all stakeholders in the paradigm change.
  • Manage the reality that technology is moving faster than policy.

As one participant put it, “Every student should experience personalized learning so they are ready for what’s next.” That can start in today’s classrooms and schools, as well as in other kinds of learning environments. To reach toward a radically personalized learning ecosystem that extends beyond today’s education structures, we also need to push further, together. As another participant said, “We can only be successful in a paradigm change when all stakeholders are involved in the process.”